Crowd-Sourcing Native Plant Ideas for School Landscape
By Michael Leach
Please put on your thinking caps. We’re looking for plants native to central Ohio that meet several requirements. The goal is a more environmentally friendly and educationally enhanced school landscape. Yes, we have our native go-tos – I adore oaks, Deb loves royal catchfly, native ferns and spicebush, and Teresa is a fan of coneflowers and Joe Pye weed. But, for this project, we’d love to hear from you.
A new middle school is to be built near my home. Fortunately plans call for preserving a 200-year-old oak tree. Already there’s an orange, plastic mesh fence around this grand tree.
The schools superintendent is open to my making suggestions to the landscape planners for native Ohio plants that may be used on the site. We discussed the possibility of white pines to screen the football field and track. These trees have been used before on school sites. It’s a toehold.
For now there’s little chance of doing more than a few trees and perhaps some shrubs, the typical local school landscape. Low maintenance — primarily mowing — is preferred. So no pollinator strips, recreated prairies or woodland preserves need apply.
Plant parameters are:
Toughness — Have to tolerate full sun, wind, little care and Midwest extremes common in Central Ohio, Zone 6;
Coexistence — Must be able to handle competition from lawn and withstand mowers running over root zones;
Visual appeal — Seasonal interest, such as fall color, a plus, because people are using the school, but no messy fruits;
Acquisition — Be readily available in 2-inch caliper plants;
Education — While school gardens offer diverse learning opportunities, these tend to flourish only with teachers who are also gardeners. No outdoor classroom is on the horizon at the moment. Ideally trees and shrubs should be those that: had/have a variety of uses for Native Americans and/or European settlers, support a range of wildlife, and have other qualities that make them resources for creative teachers.
Please send your suggestions and comments by August 20.
Today we are helping launch April as Ohio Native Plant Month, with a post about how this became Ohio law. In a few days, we’ll share an interview with Hope Taft, former Ohio first lady, who not only helped make this happen, but has long been a champion of Ohio native plants and natural areas.
It takes more than trowels and watering cans to make a gardening statement. For April to become Ohio Native Plant Month, ideas, conversations, meetings, legislative hearings, political action, and the signature of Gov. Mike DeWine were part of the mix.
The purpose is to increase public awareness of Ohio’s native plants, and the many benefits they provide to pollinators, Ohio’s economy, and health of Ohio’s environment.
One of the behind-the-scenes champions is Hope Taft, wife of former Ohio Gov. Bob Taft and “mother” of the Heritage Garden at the Governor’s Residence in Columbus. It’s the only one in the country featuring a landscape showcasing the state’s native plants and vignettes of its principal ecosystems.
The idea for native plant month sprouted around three years ago when she learned Texas planned a native plant week. She said, “This struck me as a great way to broaden the impact of the Heritage Garden and increase the use of native plants in residential settings.”
However, it stayed in her memory bank because “…. my background told me it would be a lot of work to get the legislature to go along and even more to have a group of like-minded organizations to do it without supporting legislation.”
Eventually she met Kathryn Cochran Wiggam, wife of state Rep. Scott Wiggam of the Ohio House of Reresentatives, and daughter of Ken Cochran, retired director of Secrest Arboretum. She is a member of the Garden Club of Akron, part of the Garden Club of America. Another memory deposited.
Eventually, several memories and meetings resulted in action. Nancy Linz, the Zone X horticulture chair of the Garden Club of America, Nathan Johnson, director of Public Lands for the Ohio Environmental Council, and Hope worked out a plan to get the facts and information needed to present it to the legislature. She said, “The stars were aligning!”
We surveyed every garden club, associated group and green industry member we could think offor the best month, she said. April was chosen because a wide variety of groups across Ohio could participate and nurseries could be stocked with native plants “when the public is most interested in their own yards.”
Rep. Scott Wiggam and Sen. Bob Hackett guided the plan through the legislature. Committee hearings were required. After making many trips to Columbus to testify in the House and Senate committees, getting school children, green industry representatives, and garden club association representatives to testify, and encourage many others to write letters, the bill was signed into law July 18, 2019,” she said.
The group isn’t finished. The trio is working to form a nonprofit organization, develop a website,www.ohionativeplantmonth.org, and encourage use of information there. “Nancy is the driving force behind Ohio Native Plant Month and hopes it will get national traction,” she said.
Recently the group received notice the Montgomery County Commissioners, which includes Dayton, issued a proclamation honoring Ohio Native Pant Month. This is important, Hope said. It puts the local government on records supporter of using native plants.
Another way to promote Ohio plants, she said, is for local beautification groups to add “use of natives” as a criteria in selecting outstanding gardens.
While the COVID-19 crisis forced cancellation of native plant events in April, the Ohio Native Plant Month website will list new events, provide updates, give information on invasive plants, and show tallies of Ohio tree plantings to reach the United Nations Trillion Tree Campaign, www.trilliontreecampagin.org, to plant a trillion trees by 2050.
They also will provide information on adding Ohio native plant pollinator gardens to home landscapes and using Ohio natives in existing landscape plantings.
In between light rain showers Michael and I visited Teresa’s garden. Nestled in a conservation area along the scenic Little Darby Creek, Teresa created a haven for wildlife and for herself and her family. Her design is a continuum: formal elements by the house; semi-formal beds further out, culminating in prairie areas by the road. Her gardens reflect not only the natural areas that were along the Little Darby before humans settled here, but also of the food and cutting gardens that came after.
The Midwest is experiencing a record-setting amount of rain for June and July, so Teresa’s gardens are lush. The long prairie areas that line the road are full of bloom as we move into high summer color.
We are greeted at the front door by one of Teresa’s many colorful containers. Her gardens are lovely contrasts of textural foliage punctuated by well-placed blooming plants and artful placements of garden accents.
The vegetable-cutting garden is perfectly placed within easy access to Teresa’s workroom. The mass of crocosmia that you see below provided the flowers for a simple arrangement in the kitchen. The garden itself is an interesting interpretation a four-square design. Instead of opting for the traditional, Teresa created a more modern zig-zag design.
We can’t always control where our plants will roam. A volunteer pumpkin has escaped and entwined with butterflyweed. On the other side of the garden, Teresa purposely inter-planted potatoes with asparagus, purple coneflower and kiwi. The sacred Datura (right image; lower left) self-seeds as it will.
Onto the prairie – A personal favorite is false sunflower (Heliopsis sp.) which has spread along one portion of the prairie area. A close-up of another section reveals the intermingling of other prairie species. The patterns ebb and flow over the years depending on environmental conditions. Because of the rain, there were fewer pollinators present, but I have visited on a sunny day and the prairie was buzzing with a myriad of insects. The goldfinches are already harvesting the purple coneflowers.
Next stop: visiting Teresa’s woods. Her son Mark installed a zip line and built a small treehouse and has made this part of the yard his own. We decided not to venture into this natural area because the mosquitoes were – quite literally – out for our blood! It was easier to avoid them by staying out in the open, breezy areas.
Just off the woods is the backyard terrace area where texture rules. In the lower area, we visited “the girls”. They often roam with Teresa as she works in the garden. I’m thinking how this might be a good addition to my own garden. Where else do you find an insecticide (insects are one of their favorite foods), a fertilizer, a tractor and a food provider wrapped up in one attractive package?
Coming out of the backyard into a semi-formal woodland garden, the rain started again. Time to say goodbye, accept some beautiful eggs, go home and bake.